Gone are the days of a quiet island that shuts down after dark.

Hospitality and hospital staff work all hours of the night. Airplanes carrying tourists and residents often land in George Town well after dark. Cayman now requires around-the-clock transportation options to service a growing population and a robust tourist sector.

As numbers on island grow, so will demand for space on the road. To avoid even greater congestion, public transportation offers an important piece of the planning puzzle.

“The solution is not building more roads. The solution is not bringing bigger buses. The solution is a combination of all of those,” Transportation Minister Moses Kirkconnell told the Cayman Compass.

“Long term, you think about bigger buses, you think about more-efficient buses, about better scheduling, about better bus stops.”

Rosa Harris, chairperson of the Public Transport Board

As chairperson of the Public Transport Board, Rosa Harris is tasked with guiding the conversation and moving the needle on those goals.

She recognises that Cayman’s current bus system will need to expand and modernise to serve residents’ needs – and to incentivise commuters to ditch their cars in favour of public transit.

“I think that the incentive will come when persons who enjoy their private vehicles have a similar substitute or alternative,” Harris said.

“In public transport right now, someone who’s driving a car may not feel that the 15-seater onmibuses suit them and their lifestyles …

“We want persons to look at public transport as a solution and an alternative to private transportation, but the experience has to be there.”

Harris shared some of the government’s short-term and long-term transportation goals – including improved routes, safer bus stops and development of a bus route app – that have been identified through board meetings and ministry consultations with transit workers.

Bigger buses

Currently, most public buses in Cayman hold a maximum of 15 people. These smaller buses are already experiencing crowding and at times reaching maximum capacity, Harris said. To create a more comfortable ride for passengers and reduce the number of buses on the road, she said government is looking at a larger model bus that Caymanian entrepreneurs would be able to acquire with financial support.

“We have a model that we very much like. At this time, there isn’t a barrier to entry. It’s more of creating a framework to make the opportunity available to Caymanian entrepreneurs,” Harris said.

“That is something that we’re working on with the ministry currently.”

Once the vehicles are available on island, Caymanian businesses would be given priority for access and funding, Harris added.

“We’ve discussed the type of vehicle, looking at some new routes and routes that have a high demand, how to start to phase in this new type of vehicle,” she said. “And on the government side through the ministry, should a Caymanian want this opportunity, how would they be able to find the financial support with government as a guarantee?”

Better routes

As transportation planners look to expand the bus service with new and improved routes, students and the elderly are top of mind, Harris said.

“Some of the groups that have made outreach to the board and asked for support have been students, the elderly getting to local hospitals and the eastern districts having better, more reliable service,” she said.

“Traditionally, most of the activity in Cayman has taken place in George Town and West Bay Road. So that is very well serviced.”

Recent route improvements have focussed on expansion beyond those traditional routes and included greater service in Industrial Park and secondary roads.

Government recently passed legislation that allows buses to use private roads, instead of exclusively servicing government-owned roads, Minister Kirkconnell explained. This has facilitated consideration of additional service areas.

“[We’ve been] establishing bus routes on those roads so that persons can get a little bit closer to the airport, a little bit closer to the supermarket, fast tracks past West Bay Road into West Bay,” Harris said.

“The school district is really important and the hospital, so we have service that surrounds those areas from South Sound, all the way up to Bodden Town and North Side.”

With greater night-time and early-morning activity on the island, Harris also acknowledged the need for longer hours.

“We’ve also looked at the hours that they would operate and there is a need for early-morning hours, be that either 1am, 2am,” she said.

“We need to realise that things just can’t cease at 5 or 6pm in the evening, or let’s say 8pm or 9pm with taxis, depending on when the last flight is.

“We’re now in a country that has a lot of activity around the clock, and we need to provide that service versus forcing people to buy a private vehicle and add to the congestion that’s on the road.”

Safety

To improve bus stop safety, planners are also considering lay-bys or areas where buses can fully pull off the road to let passengers on and off.

“We’ve reached out to the Ministry of Planning because they are looking at the roadway system. Some of the features or specifications that could be considered in our new roadways, if they are to be updated, would be lay-bys,” Harris said.

“So those are things that we would like to see, particularly in roadways that have a higher miles per hour. Anything 40 and above, you really need to pull off the road and get out of the regular flow of that higher-paced traffic.”

Currently, Rotary Central Cayman Islands sponsors bus shelters at certain stops, where passengers can sit and shade themselves.

“We have a great programme with Rotary with bus shelters. But obviously, having shelters comes at a cost from a community standpoint with Rotary,” Harris said.

“Establishing the right bus stops, even if there isn’t a shelter, is important, because those buses do need to pull off the road to be able to safely onboard or off-board passengers.”

Accessible information

A public transportation website is in the works by the Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism, with Chief Officer Stran Bodden leading the way, Harris said.

In the long term, bus riders should also be able to download a phone app to track routes and arrival times.

“You’ll have a link to the app to download. You’ll have the bus route maps available, and then you’ll have access to all sorts of public transport forms and information, and obviously a way to contact them,” Harris said.

“We would love to be able to introduce that type of technology here in Cayman so that you arrive at your location at the right time, so that you’re not waiting a long time in order to catch the type of transportation that you need.”

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now

5 COMMENTS

  1. “To improve bus stop safety, planners are also considering lay-bys or areas where buses can fully pull off the road to let passengers on and off.”

    Before proceeding with this plan, more research on how it is done elsewhere should be conducted, for it creates big problem: Moving a bus safely back into traffic.
    It is done differently in Europe and US. Bermuda doesn’t have bus pull-out bays due to road space limitations. What would be the best solution for Grand Cayman?

    Urban designers in Europe are eliminating existing bus pull-out bays as it is very difficult to merge back into traffic from a bus pull-out bay which creates potential hazards between buses merging from the pullout bays and the surrounding traffic.

    PTB and members of public can learn a lot from reading this article.
    What Does This Street In Zürich Mean? https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/09/urban-planning-zurich-public-transit-street-design-traffic/599011/

  2. Some fundamental factors which presently exist in the public transport sector and which will need to be changed seemed to have been ignored in the assessments offered by the Government officials featured.

    One such factor is buses operated by individual, private owners who seemingly have no adherence to strict schedules, cease daily operations whenever they wish and digress from published routes. One can often see two or more buses from a particular route traveling “back-to-back” at times, yet one has to wait excessively for another bus to come along. There are no established schedules to be followed. At the GT “depot” bus drivers wait until their buses are full before commencing their journey. This is seemingly directed by a Government-hired “dispatcher”. There is no way any schedules can be properly maintained if each driver is allowed to wait until his/her bus is full. Bus operators must be required to meet schedules and not passenger quotas!

    Another factor is that after a long day on the road, a driver is exhausted and heads home after peak hours to rest. This leaves the routes and traveling public under-served in the later hours. As it stands, these drivers are private operators within a public transportation service and thus there is no accountability as to their working time. Operators must be required to work shifts in order to meet the needs of commuters for at least 18 hours per day.

    Divergence from existing routes is another factor. One can often see buses marked with a particular route sticker operating well outside their designated route. As is stopping to embark or disembark passengers wherever they wish. Cayman must be the only place in the entire world where passengers do not have to be at a bus stop for service. There is no way that schedules can be maintained when a bus stops “will-nilly” at the beck of its passengers. As such, passengers have become “spoiled” that buses will stop anywhere and so they wait anywhere. There is a reason and purpose for designated bus-stops! While the courtesy of delivering a person to their door during a rainstorm is commendable, it cannot be the norm for a properly operating public system.

    Some bus operators usually defend their divergence from their designated route by saying that there is no clientele along the route – such as Northwest Point beyond Watercourse Rd. junction in West Bay and the entirety of Walkers Rd.. If buses are known to ignore an existing route, very few people will stand out in the elements waiting. I challenge such drivers to diligently stick to their routes and they will see that the business is there once the reliability is demonstrated.

    A possible solution seemingly ignored by Government is to put public bus services to public tender with established service and performance requirements to be contractually met. Another possibility, given the fractured operational background, is to establish a cooperative. In any case, there can be no cohesiveness – a facet required in any system – until there is collective accountability with statutory responsibility to meet established service standards.

    As a previous representative of a member agency to the Public Transportation Board, over the past dozen or more years, I’ve made these suggestions and others to many PTB meetings, including encouraging consultation with Bermuda transport officials. Ironically, but not surprisingly, at one such meeting, one senior Government official mentioned in your article ridiculed my suggestions!

    The current public transport “service” commenced without any guidelines, some of which evolved as the services grew. However, that approach created a “free-for-all” style operation which is now difficult to streamline. Nonetheless, in order to create a properly working system, these changes and more must be made.

    • Excellent observation and points!

      I would add few more things: regular preventative maintenance and safety inspections of the buses, as well as drug testing of the drivers.
      Maintenance service must be conducted in a certified and licensed facility specialising in servicing buses with a proven track records.

      Preventive maintenance inspections and services should be performed, and documented according to a written schedule. All documentation should be kept through the life of the vehicle.

      A question: How much liability insurance a bus owner carry?
      The owners and drivers of busses take on a huge responsibility. The passengers of these busses have to trust that their driver will get them to their destination safely.
      In the US for most busses, this minimum limit is $5 million in coverage per accident.
      The reason these limits are so high is that a lot of people can be seriously hurt following a bus accident, and they will need to have compensation for their injuries, in addition to people in other vehicles involved in a bus accident.

  3. Public transportation, with larger buses are just what is needed. I as a handi-capped visitor on Grand Cayman, would be a great improvement, to solving the traffic problem. Right now, I have no idea how to get around the island, without paying a small fortune to do so. I want to enjoy what Cayman has to offer, but I am restricted to one area, and a new system of bus routes would make things a bit simple for me, and others in my situation. Bob Ulizza-N.E. Ohio

  4. All good comments from very concerned , interested and enlightened Caymanians. Rather than address the problems with how buses are operated, who owns them, and the problems that are created by them, my comments are regarding the type of buses on Cayman.

    I would submit that Cayman is modernizing at a rate not seen in most small countries. The population is expanding rapidly and the number of cars have grown exponentially in recent years. I remember Cayman when there was only one traffic light. Now there are too many traffic signals to count and way too many roundabouts for my liking. But progress is what Cayman wants.

    When considering new buses, the first consideration should be “green”, gasoline or diesel. There is no question that electric or hydrogen buses would be the best alternatives. Both are clean quiet and produce no GHG. Either would provide sufficient generating capacity for many trips around the island. The electricity for the lithium batteries could be from a solar source or tidal generation (if it ever occurs in Cayman). Using solar with a battery storage system could be integrated into the CUC system and dedicated to the bus system. Hydrogen is another clean fuel source, (the only by-product is water). The island is small enough that a large storage and distribution system would not be required. Toyota is developing hydrogen powered vehicles and they should be on the market by 2022 or 2023.

    One must consider at what point does a small island like Cayman stop importing internal combustion engines (ICE). Caymanians are concerned about climate change yet, it continues to increase the number of ICE autos every year. I live in the US and drive a Toyota Prius and I generally get between 54 and 64 miles per gallon. Lets see, that would be about 60 trips around the island on a tank of gas. And, my car takes up a lot less space than my wife’s Toyota Highlander which gets 24 – 28 mpg.

    The point is that Cayman should only consider electric or hydrogen buses. And there should be a phase-out of all ICE, polluting buses.